Women Gain Back Jobs Lost Since the Recession, But Gendered Economic Inequalities Persist

Woman at workThis past summer officially marked the fourth year of recovery following the 2007-09 recession, dubbed a “mancession” by some. Men lost more jobs during the recession, both in terms of absolute numbers and percent reduction in employment, and now, in the fourth year of recovery, women are gaining jobs lost back at a faster rate than men. A recent report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) shows that, as of June 2013, women have regained nearly all of the jobs that they lost in the recession, while men are still struggling to catch up. At first glance, this may sound like good news for women’s employment and gender equality in the workforce. But a closer look at the areas in which men and women have gained and lost jobs in the years following 2007 reveals that the United States still has a long way to go before we can declare that women are equal to, let alone outperforming, men in the job market.

The primary reason that men were hit harder during the recession is that men are more highly concentrated in industries such as manufacturing and construction, which suffered the greatest job losses during those years. These industries have experienced slower recoveries, as well, which accounts for the fact that men have yet to gain back about 30 percent of the jobs that they lost in the recession. Industries where women are disproportionately represented, such as education, healthcare, leisure, and hospitality, however, fared relatively well. The education and health sectors in particular have expanded in the intervening years, adding over 1.6 million jobs since June 2009, 1.1 million of which went to women. It is important to consider, however, that much of the job growth that has benefitted women since the recession has been focused primarily in low-wage, low-security positions in hotels, restaurants, retail, education, and home health. And overall, more men are still employed than women: 76.2 million men as opposed to 67 million women. Job segregation and the gender wage gap remain alive and well, with men and women working in different industries and even in different areas within industries, playing a big part in these unequal numbers.

Gender inequality in the workforce is nothing surprising or new: a large part of the reason that the gender wage gap persists in 2013, fifty years after the Equal Pay Act, is that women are concentrated in lower-wage industries and underrepresented in higher-paying leadership positions in almost every industry, even those that are predominantly female. Women also continue to earn less in the same occupations. Even in Boston, home to the best-educated women of any major U.S. city, women earn an average of 83 cents for every dollar that men earn. Nationally, the wage gap is even wider, at 77 cents to the dollar.

Economic recovery since the recession has not remedied these types of gendered economic inequalities. The IWRP’s report shows that while women have gained back over 90 percent of the jobs that they lost since the start of the recession, men have gained back proportionately more jobs or lost proportionately fewer jobs within each industry relative to women. Even in education and healthcare, the industries that account for much of women’s job recovery since the recession, women’s employment increased only 6.9 percent as opposed to a 10.9 percent increase for men, a 4.0 percent gender gap in job growth within these sectors. And the gender poverty gap in the United States has not decreased, but rather increased, during the recovery, with 16.3 percent of women and 13.6 percent of men living in poverty in 2012. While male poverty has decreased since 2010 despite the relatively slower recovery of male jobs, female poverty has stagnated during that time.

The fact that women have gained back in absolute numbers the jobs that they lost since the recession should not be construed as evidence for the so-called “end of men” or even definitive progress toward economic equality for men and women. Women are still disproportionately represented in positions that pay less and offer less job security and, on average, receive less compensation for similar education and skills. Economists predict that as the economy continues to recover in the next few years, men will regain the remaining 2.1 million jobs they have lost since 2007. The issue of job segregation by gender must be considered as we look at reports that indicate positive economic gains for women. Until equal pay and equal representation across industries and positions for women are a reality, gender inequality in the workplace will continue to be an issue that deserves not only our attention, but meaningful action.

Teresa Wisner contributed to this blog post.


Reframing Justice: Hiring the Best Candidate for the Job

Historically, when men and women with criminal records applied for jobs with the State of Illinois, they were asked on the initial employment application form if they had ever been convicted of a crime. If they answered “yes” or checked the “yes” box on the form, they were usually prescreened out of the general applicant pool and never truly considered for the position sought. No matter how educated, how qualified, or how much of an asset these individuals would be to our state, they were not considered, simply because they checked “yes” in response to a question regarding their conviction history. And even if the applicant survived that prescreening, qualified men and women seeking employment were still often rejected without consideration of factors like how long ago the case occurred, how serious the offense was, the circumstances surrounding the offense, and the relatedness of that offense to the job sought by the applicant. As a result, thousands of hardworking and law-abiding men and women in communities across the state were denied positions each day despite being qualified, arguably the best fit for the job, and presenting substantially no more of a risk to public safety than the general population who have not been convicted of mistakes made in their past.

Thankfully, as of October 3, 2013, that will no longer be the case. 

Governor Patrick Quinn issued an administrative order that requires agencies under his jurisdiction to assess state job applicants’ credentials before inquiring into their criminal records (a process often called “Banning the Box”), and then, if the applicant does have a criminal record, to consider common-sense things like the amount of time that has elapsed since the offense, the gravity of the offense, and the relationship of that offense to the job sought when determining the individual’s fitness for a particular position. In doing so, Governor Quinn dramatically changed the state’s hiring process to ensure that men and women with criminal records are not automatically—and unwisely—denied access to employment.  

The practice of Banning the Box has been thoroughly vetted by states and employers. Nationwide, Banning the Box has been implemented in more than 40 jurisdictions and nearly a dozen states. One such jurisdiction is the City of Chicago, which banned the box from its employment applications several years ago. Moreover, this practice was recommended by the Illinois Poverty Commission, the recently promulgated guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and, most recently, by the Illinois Employment Restrictions Task Force, which was charged with assessing the employment barriers that confront those who have made past mistakes to determine if there are less restrictive alternatives to these policies and statutes that would not unduly harm Illinoisans. 

Ban the Box policies are frequently misunderstood by the public, perhaps because the media does not present the whole picture. These policies do not give people with criminal records a total pass. Right now, qualified men and women with past mistakes are never given a shot to be hired; ban the box simply gives these men and women the chance to take care of themselves and their families that they have earned and deserve. Their criminal histories are weighed at the point in the hiring process where they have been found to be qualified for and a strong candidate for the job. Then employers weigh whether their criminal history makes them unsuitable because of the substantial risk they may pose to the public or their employees.  

Delaying employment-related criminal record inquiries gives job applicants the personal contact with an employer needed for them to mitigate or erase the negative stereotypes that an employer may hold regarding those with criminal records. In fact, employers who have this personal contact with applicants are shown to be more than four times more likely to call back applicants with criminal records.

Without question, this order will remove unnecessary barriers to employment for the nearly four million men and women in our state with criminal records. Doing so yields tangible benefits for not only the man or woman who made a mistake in their past; it benefits their children, their family, their community, improves public safety, and saves our state money. Nearly fifty percent of the men and women in our communities with criminal records will re-offend (called “recidivism”) within three years unless they are able to acquire stable employment. If they are fortunate enough to acquire employment, the recidivism rate falls to only 8%. Accordingly, the benefits of sound policy that allows men and women in our communities more opportunities to be self-sufficient and take care of their children and saves our state millions in criminal justice costs associated with recidivism are clear. Just as important, waiting to inquire into a man or woman’s criminal record helps applicants avoid the indignity of being rejected from a job after job without ever getting a shot because of the stigma associated with those who made past mistakes. It also rewards those who work hard to overcome that stigma and rejection by pursuing further education, having no further contact with law enforcement, and being exemplary parents and community members.

Any policy that does any of those things needs to be congratulated. This policy does all of them. And for that, we commend the State of Illinois for its leadership in ensuring that the state has a just hiring policy that opens doors that are too often slammed shut on the faces of hardworking and law abiding men and women who have earned a fair shot. 

Employers' Obligation to Notify Employees of Their Rights at Issue in the Courts

NLRB PosterEmployee rights received another major setback recently when the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rule on notification. The Fourth Circuit held that the NLRB, in issuing the notice-posting requirement, exceeded its authority under § 6 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The Fourth Circuit becomes the second federal appellate circuit to have invalidated the notice-posting rule, joining the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which invalidated the rule in a separate decision in May.

Advocates viewed the notice posting rule as a critical component to the protection of employee rights under the NLRA. Employees covered under the NLRA have the right to organize, to join (or not join) a union, to collectively bargain, to strike and picket, and to receive fair representation by a union. Proponents of the notice-posting rule viewed it as necessary because employees often fail to assert their rights under the NLRA simply because they lack information as to what those rights are and how they may be enforced. 

In issuing the rule, the NLRB attempted to address these concerns by requiring employers to post, in a “conspicuous” place within the workplace, an 11” x 17” poster that provided employees with essential information regarding their rights under the NLRA. In addition to listing employee rights protected by the NLRA, the poster would have provided examples of illegal practices by employers and provided contact information for the NLRB. If an employer failed to comply with the notice requirement, the NLRB could have deemed that employer as engaging in an “unfair labor” practice.

Soon after the NLRB promulgated the notice-posting rule in August 2011, opponents vigorously challenged it in federal court. Trade associations joined with other business associations representing employers in filing two separate suits in federal district courts in Washington, D.C., and in South Carolina. They argued that the rule violated both the NLRA and their free speech rights under the First Amendment. In particular, they claimed that the rule would have effectively forced them to publish, on their premises, government speech in favor of organized labor.

In the D.C. case, the district court severely limited the rule by effectively removing the NLRB’s power to enforce it. On appeal, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals went even further, holding that the notice-posting rule violated the free speech component of § 8(c) of the NLRA and invalidating the entire rule. The appellate court contended that § 8(c), like the First Amendment right to free speech, protects not only an employer’s right to speak, but also an employer’s right not to speak or to disseminate information. After striking down the NLRB’s enforcement authority under the rule, the appellate court concluded that the NLRB would not have issued the rule based on voluntary compliance by employers.

In the South Carolina case, the district court held that the NLRB exceeded its authority under § 6 of the NLRA and therefore invalidated the rule. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision. The appeals court noted that “the substantive provisions of the Act make clear that the Board is a reactive entity, and thus do not imply that Congress intended to allow proactive rulemaking of the sort challenged here through the general rulemaking provision of Section 6.”

Initially set to go into effect on November 14, 2011, the notice-posting rule never really got off the ground. The NLRB first pushed back the effective date of the rule to January 31, 2012, then again to April 30, 2012. In light of the continued legal challenges, NLRB has voluntarily stayed enforcement of the rule indefinitely while the legal issues are resolved.  

Although the recent decision out of the Fourth Circuit does not bode well for the future of the notice-posting requirement, the rule’s ultimate fate is still not yet clear. The NLRB has not yet stated whether it will appeal the D.C. Circuit or Fourth Circuit decisions to the U.S. Supreme Court. An alternate route could involve Congress amending the NLRA to explicitly provide the NLRB with the authority to promulgate such a rule; however, the current division within Congress makes this route less plausible.

The Shriver Center strongly believes that informing employees of their rights in the workplace is the best way to protect the rights of all employees covered under the NLRA, and that the posting of notices such those at issue in these cases is one of the most effective ways to impart this information. Advocates at the Shriver Center will continue to closely monitor the future of the notice-posting rule.

This blog post was coauthored by Cedric Gordon.


Employer Credit Checks: A Discriminatory Practice

Credit ScoreLenders use credit reporting information to determine a borrower’s creditworthiness and to make lending decisions. However, a new report by Demos reveals that a growing number of companies are checking credit reports as part of the hiring process.     

According to Demos, 1 in 4 unemployed people reported that a potential employer requested to check their credit report as part of the job application. Employers’ rationale for this practice is that people with bad credit scores will be less reliable or won’t be hard-working or high-quality employees. Yet the report clearly shows that negative beliefs about people with poor scores are nothing more than false stereotypes. According to Demos, financial misfortune is the major driving force behind peoples’ low credit scores, not irresponsibility or poor work ethic. Job loss, loss of health coverage, and medical debt are the leading reasons for poor credit scores—not laziness or irresponsibility. While these factors might hinder a person’s creditworthiness, there is no evidence to suggest that they hinder a person’s job performance. Additionally, African Americans and other minorities are more likely to have poor credit scores, partially due to the proliferation of predatory lending schemes that target minority neighborhoods. Often, these predatory financial products leave people with no option but to default on their loans. The practice of using credit checks in the hiring process is a clear example of structural racism and could be a driver of the ever-growing racial wealth gap.  

Moreover, credit scores are prone to error, and therefore cannot be relied upon as an accurate predictor of a person’s reliability as an employee. According to a recent Federal Trade Commission (FTC) study, 1 in 4 consumers identified at least one potentially material error among their three credit reports that could negatively affect their credit scores. Out of the people who found errors in their reports, just 5.2% were able to have their credit scores adjusted enough to move to a lower credit risk score. This study revealed that the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is inadequate in allowing consumers to control their own credit scores. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)’s recent comprehensive study of credit reporting found that ongoing efforts to measure credit report accuracy will likely continue to rely on consumers to identify potential inaccuracies in their credit reports and to rely on the dispute resolution system to validate that inaccuracies have occurred. However, the FCRA’s existing consumer dispute process will not identify or ameliorate certain types of errors that may be associated with the credit reporting agencies’ data processes.

As part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Financial Protection Act, the CFPB was given authority to supervise both consumer reporting companies and those that provide consumer reporting companies with consumers’ credit information, such as large banks and many types of nonbanks. In July 2012, the CFPB adopted a rule to extend its supervision authority to cover larger consumer reporting agencies, and in September it released the examination procedures it will use to examine these companies. Previously, these companies were not supervised at the federal level. In October 2012, the CFPB began accepting consumer complaints about credit reporting; for the first time, this gave consumers individual-level complaint assistance with consumer reporting agencies at the federal level. The CFPB has indicated that it may also consider the development and implementation of data quality and accuracy metrics to reduce risk to consumers and assure compliance with FCRA obligations.

As of February 2013, eight states (California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon, Vermont and Washington) have passed laws prohibiting the use credit checks as part of the hiring process. During 2012, 35 bills in 17 states and the District of Columbia were pending related to restrictions on the use of credit information in employment decisions. Given credit checks’ low probability of providing reliable proof of a worker’s abilities and its disparate impact on minorities, this practice should be banned nationally. Moreover, when credit rating agencies make errors on reports, the person with the damaged score should not be punished. Requiring people who have suffered financial misfortune to face greater barriers to employment embodies everything America is not about. 

With Governor's Veto, California Remains Behind New York in Protecting Domestic Workers

Home care workerCalifornia’s domestic workers, primarily immigrant women of color, vowed to continue fighting for labor rights after Governor Jerry Brown vetoed Assembly Bill (A.B.) 889, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Brown said in his veto message that the bill raised too many unanswered questions. But the National Domestic Workers Alliance accused Brown of doing a “tremendous disservice” not only to the workers but to the people they care for. After multiple mobilizations in Sacramento of thousands of workers, for whom time away from work was a real sacrifice, and after New York adopted similar legislation in 2010, workers had been hopeful.

The labor of domestic workers, who care for children, older people, and people with disabilities, goes largely unrecognized, and these workers lack basic protections that others take for granted. For historical reasons, domestic workers are not covered by the National Labor Relations Act and other employment laws. And because domestic workers toil in isolation in individual homes, taking concerted action can be difficult. But in recent years, across the country, they’ve found each other and begun to organize.

A decade of advocacy in New York City culminated in a state law that provides expanded overtime pay, protection from discrimination, mandatory days of rest, and other basic benefits for the tens of thousands of women who work as nannies, housekeepers, and companions for the elderly in New York State. Clearinghouse Review reported on that effort last year. Authors Ai-jen Poo and E. Tammy Kim described how a campaign that began with a focus on domestic workers’ grievances against individual employers grew into a multi-year effort focused on the state legislature. Domestic workers from the Asian, South Asian, Latina, and Caribbean communities collaborated to design the legislation. Starting in 2003, they built a base, recruited allies, and told their stories publicly. The New York Assembly passed a version of their bill in 2009; the state senate followed in 2010, and Governor David Paterson signed the bill that summer.

California domestic workers have also been organizing for a decade, and workers’ advocates were hopeful that California would follow New York’s lead, particularly given California’s large immigrant population. Domestic workers’ rights legislation had passed in the state in 2006 but was vetoed by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenneger, a Republican. This time, there was reason to think that the chances were better with Democrat Jerry Brown in office. After all, the first time Brown was governor—some 35 years ago—he staunchly supported the landmark California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, which dramatically increased the labor rights of farmworkers.

A.B. 889 would have removed the exclusion of California’s approximately 200,000 domestic workers under other state labor laws and, in the words of Sylvia Lopez, a leader of the California Domestic Workers Coalition, recognize them as “real workers.” If Brown had signed the bill into law, Lopez and her colleagues would have been assured of the same rights other employees enjoy to meal and rest breaks, overtime pay, and workers compensation. Domestic workers who “live in” or work 24-hour shifts would have received certain industry-specific protections as well, such as the right to eight uninterrupted hours of sleep and use of kitchen facilities to cook their own food.

But Governor Brown wasn’t persuaded. In his veto message, he expressed concern for elderly or disabled employers of domestic workers, asked what the bill’s “economic and human impact” would be on employers, and also raised other questions. However, he didn’t reject the bill’s approach entirely, calling instead for the Department of Industrial Relations to “study” his questions and simultaneously to address certain domestic worker issues through regulations.

Although describing itself as “shocked” at the veto, the National Domestic Workers Alliance vowed to continue and expand its campaign in California and to move into other states as well, suggesting Illinois and Massachusetts as likely locales for new efforts. Work is only beginning in these states, and the Shriver Center will be involved in the campaign in Illinois as it unfolds.

Employee or Independent Contractor? A Distinction with a Difference

WorkersThe recession has made many Americans understandably desperate for employment. Some money-hungry employers take advantage of this desperation by misclassifying new hires as independent contractors rather than employees. You know how people sometimes talk about distinctions without a difference? The distinction between independent contractors and employees is not one of those meaningless distinctions. 

Misclassifying an employee as an independent contractor can have dire consequences for the worker. Independent contractors who are injured on the job are not eligible for workers’ compensation. Independent contractors are also not eligible for minimum wage, overtime, unemployment insurance, and any benefits an employer offers to his or her employees, such as health care or vacation benefits. Even worse, the workers who are most frequently misclassified as independent contractors work in low-wage industries such as construction, home health care, landscaping, and delivery services—so they are precisely the people who need employment protections the most.

Although employers that engage in independent-contractor misclassification certainly save money, society as a whole does not benefit. The government loses tax revenue when employers misclassify their employees, and competing businesses suffer when misclassifying employers game the system.

What is being done to fight this problem? On the federal level, the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor maintains a helpful website outlining the federal government’s response to independent contractor misclassification. The Department of Labor is fighting misclassification through a multi-pronged Misclassification Initiative. As part of that initiative, in 2011 the Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service entered into an agreement to “work together and share information to reduce the incidence of misclassification of employees, to help reduce the tax gap, and to improve compliance with federal labor laws.” The Department of Labor has also signed memoranda with individual states outlining plans to cooperate on this issue.

In addition to working with the Labor Department, some state and local governments are tackling independent-contractor misclassification on their own. The range of state and local approaches to this problem is broad; some states, such as Illinois, have passed their own laws to reduce independent-contractor misclassification. Some states have created task forces to fight the problem through investigating alleged misclassification, filing lawsuits, and educating employers and workers about their rights and responsibilities. And some states have given their labor departments more budget dollars to crack down on this problem.

As Andrea Vaughn of the Public Justice Center discussed in a recent issue of Clearinghouse Review, Maryland has both passed a law prohibiting independent-contractor misclassification and created a task force to fight it. In her article, Identifying Misclassified Workers: Lessons Learned from Maryland’s Workplace Fraud Act, Vaughn describes the independent-contractor misclassification problem generally as well as the history behind Maryland’s 2009 law, the Workplace Fraud Act. Vaughn observes that “[t]he strength of the opposition that the Act has faced—both before and after its passage—shows the potential power that this type of legislation bears against unscrupulous employers.” Advocates for low-income workers should take note of the Maryland act and develop a nuanced understanding of independent-contractor misclassification so that they can address this problem in their own work. 

The American Jobs Act

Last night, President Obama finally drowned out the summer’s budget deficit political circus with an impassioned speech and serious proposal to deal with our real American crisis – the jobs deficit. Between the jobs lost in the recession, and the growth of the American population, the National Employment Law Project calculates that we have a deficit of more than 11 million jobs. The President will send Congress a bill called the American Jobs Act, which would pump a half billion dollars into the economy in 2012 through jobs-creating programs, infrastructure investments, and tax credits. The priority of this funding must be strengthening the American middle class, including creating on-ramps for those who have worked hard, but never been able to get there yet. The President’s proposal will enable us to create jobs now by making critical investments in our nation’s future prosperity. You should contact your representative immediately to ensure that Congress passes it right away.

The proposals in American Jobs Act are tried and true strategies, which have had the support of members of both political parties. The bill looks to our nation’s immediate needs but does so with a long-term goal in mind – an American “economy that creates good, middle-class jobs that pay well and offer security.”

President Obama promised that the cost of the bill will be paid through a deficit reduction plan he will introduce in ten days. The outline of the plan represents a balanced approach of increasing revenue and making additional spending cuts on a responsible timeline. These cuts must not harm the most vulnerable among us. It also will include tax reform so that the wealthiest Americans and the most profitable corporations pay their fair share. The President will also propose changes to Medicare and Medicaid. We need to see the specifics of these proposals. They must make smart changes that assure that America’s seniors and low-income individuals and families have access to quality health care for decades to come.

About half the cost of the bill is a relatively modest proposal to extend and expand the payroll tax cut. Currently workers pay 4.2% of their income to fund Social Security, but that will rise back to 6.2% at the end of the year if Congress takes no action. The proposed cut would halve the payroll tax paid by employees through 2012 to 3.1%, saving a worker who makes $50,000 per year about $1,500. The bill also would cut the payroll tax paid by small businesses for the first time. Early estimates suggest these will cause employers to add 50,000 jobs per month. Additionally, all business would get tax credits for hiring workers, especially the long-term unemployed and veterans, for giving raises, and for making capital investments. Payroll taxes go to funding Social Security, and the President indicated that the amount saved by individuals and businesses would have to be paid in through other sources of government revenue. The challenge is that we still have to continue to support Social Security and ensure its long-term viability as one of the most important anti-poverty programs in America.

The American Jobs Act also funds major infrastructure investments, including building and repairing roads, bridges, railroads and airports, and repairing and modernizing 35,000 school buildings, through a public-private fund that picks projects with two criteria: “how badly a construction project is needed and how much good it would do for the economy.” The construction industry is ripe for adding workers, including women and minorities, who have historically been underrepresented. Additionally, it provides funding for critical workers that states have cut – teachers and first responders.

The bill has many other important provisions. There are several key provisions to help the long-term unemployed. First, the bill would extend unemployment insurance another year. Without this extension, millions of Americans who have been out of work for 6 months or more would lose their benefits starting in January, and would stop spending those benefits in their communities, further damaging the economy. Second, it would prohibit employers from discriminating against someone just because they are unemployed. Third, it creates a $4,000 tax credit for businesses that hire someone who’s been looking for work for 6 months or more. However, the proposal to create a work program along the lines of Georgia Works is concerning because recipients of unemployment insurance are placed at work sites where they are supposed to be trained, but may instead just be free labor to a corporation.

The American Jobs Act seeks to create economic opportunity for all. Right now we have a crisis where young people can’t find summer work, or first jobs. This summer, the smallest proportion of youth were working compared to any summer since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started recording this data in 1948. This long-term, early unemployment is doing serious damage to their lifetime economic prospects, and we’ve seen the rioting that youth hopelessness, poverty, and unemployment have caused in England this summer. President Obama’s proposal would create more opportunities for young people and low-income and disadvantaged Americans who want to work by connecting them with training and jobs through the creation of the Pathways Back to Work Fund. We need more details on the size and scope of this program.

The American people expect the politicians in Washington to make real choices to get our economy growing again. The American Jobs Act will create jobs now through smart investments in our future prosperity, and will be funded by fair increases in revenue from big business and the wealthiest Americans. That’s true to our American values of shared sacrifice and equal opportunity.

The circus is over. Congress, go back to work. America needs you to pass the American Jobs Act, so we can get back to work too.


Paid Sick Leave Policies Continue to Face Challenges Nationwide

SneezeUnlike many industrialized countries, the United States does not require employers to provide their workers with any paid sick days. As a result, American workers are often forced to go to work when they or their children are sick, putting themselves, their families, their co-workers, and the general public in harm’s way. This problem is particularly severe among low-income workers, who are less likely to have paid vacation or personal leave that they can use when they are sick. 

After San Francisco passed its paid sick leave ordinance in early 2007, paid sick leave advocates hoped that other states and localities would quickly enact paid sick leave policies of their own. While Washington D.C. now has a paid sick leave law, and California, New Jersey, and Washington have laws requiring employers to provide paid family leave, most communities’ efforts to achieve paid sick leave for their workers continue to encounter obstacles.

In 2008, a California bill that would have provided workers with paid sick leave died in committee after being approved by the state assembly. Earlier this month, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn refused to call a vote on the proposed New York City paid sick leave bill despite the support of a supermajority in the New York City Council. The New York City bill would have required employers to provide workers with at least five sick days a year to take care of their own illnesses or the illnesses of family members. The bill would not have applied to workers who already had a week or more of paid leave. Quinn said that she could not allow the bill to pass because it “threaten[ed] the survival of small business owners.”

More recently, paid sick leave supporters in Wisconsin are holding their breath as they wait for a final decision on Milwaukee’s paid sick leave ordinance9to5 Milwaukee led a coalition of organizations that fought to get a paid sick leave proposal on the ballot in 2008. Milwaukee voters approved the ballot initiative by an overwhelming 70 percent. The resulting ordinance requires employers to provide employees with at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked by an employee, among other requirements.

The ordinance was challenged in state court by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce. Legal wrangling continued through October 2010, when the Wisconsin Supreme Court refused to issue a final decision in the case and ordered an intermediate appellate court to decide the matter—even though the appellate court had previously ruled that only Wisconsin’s highest court could decide the issue.

Notably, the trial court's reasoning for striking the ordinance down was not straightforward disapproval of paid sick leave, but based on an issue of constitutional law and statutory interpretation. The text of the Milwaukee ordinance provides that an employee can use sick leave not only for his or her illness or the illness of a family member, but also to address issues related to “domestic violence, sexual abuse, or stalking.” The full text of the proposed ordinance was published in polling places and newspapers, as required by Wisconsin statute. Notably, however, the domestic violence-related language was not included on the actual ballot. It was the absence of that language on the 2008 ballot that formed the basis of the trial court’s original ruling. Specifically, the trial court held that the ballot question was unconstitutional because it did not provide voters with sufficient information about the ordinance. The trial court also held that the sections of the ordinance relating to domestic violence were outside the scope of Milwaukee’s police powers. 

The Shriver Center has been at the forefront of efforts to enact paid sick leave policies at both the state and national level. In Illinois, the Shriver Center has joined with Women Employed and other organizations to advocate for paid sick leave policies. On a national level, the Shriver Center is a member of Family Values at Work, a coalition of leaders advocating for paid sick leave and other family-friendly employment policies. Last April, Wendy Pollack, Director of the Shriver Center’s Women’s Law and Policy Project, joined the Family Values at Work coalition in Washington, D.C. to lobby for the Healthy Families Act, proposed federal legislation that would give workers up to seven paid sick days a year for themselves or to care for sick family members.   

As Wendy wrote in her November-December 2008 Clearinghouse Review article, What's a Mother to Do? Women, Low-Wage Employment, and Leave Policies, “the lack of adequate sick pay puts workers in an untenable position if they get sick or need to take care of a sick child or elderly parents—stay at work when you should not or lose a day of pay, and possibly even your job, if you stay home.” Regardless of the eventual outcome in Wisconsin, the Shriver Center will continue to work with its state and national partners to ensure that American workers will one day have the paid sick leave that they need and deserve. 


The True Costs--and Benefits--of Extending Unemployment Insurance

Day labor office for rentA recent editorial in the Chicago Tribune professes to have some "heart" for the long-term unemployed, but it calls upon Congress to vote down an extension of unemployment benefits anyway. We disagree. Congress should approve the extension as soon as possible.

Some may blame lingering unemployment on the unemployed, accusing them of failing to look for or take jobs "on employers' terms." But the main cause today is that there simply are no jobs. There are currently five workers for every job opening, according to a U.S. Department of Labor survey of employers. In normal times, this ratio is one to one. In the last recession, it was two to one. Employers are not waiting for workers to show up for vacant jobs. There is no relationship whatsoever between unemployment benefits and American productivity; indeed, even if an insured worker fails to take a job (which we do not concede), there are millions of uninsured and unemployed workers to snap them up.

In fact unemployment insurance allows laid-off workers the ability to preserve their retirement accounts and life-insurance policies, it helps them avoid foreclosures and bankruptcies, it maintains a minimally decent standard of living and it keeps them consuming goods and services. They buy things with the benefits at stores who employ people, who get paychecks and who make their own purchases. This "multiplier" effect has been estimated at $1.61 of positive economic impact for each dollar of benefits.

Yes we can and should have a "heart" for these workers, but we should also know that unemployment insurance helps to fight the recession and maintain jobs. Its minimal cost is well worth it.

This post was co-authored by Andrew Stettner, deputy director, National Employment Law Project, and Carrie Thomas, associate director, Chicago Jobs Council.


Employers: Help Put Illinois to Work

WorkerPut Illinois to Work (PIW) is a new jobs program that provides employers with a unique and promising opportunity to benefit from federal stimulus money, at no cost to the employer, while supporting Illinois’ economy and workforce. Participant employees are paid $10/hour by the state and are expected to work at least 30 hours/week. The PIW program is currently funded through September 30, 2010, but prospects are good that the funding will be extended for another year. 

Employers benefit from PIW in several ways:

1. PIW provides access to temporary free labor.

2. There is no long-term commitment. Although encouraged to hire PIW workers after the program ends, this decision remains entirely at the discretion of the employer. 

3. If employers do decide to hire PIW participants full-time at the end of the program, they will receive tax credits.

Virtually all employers -- public, private, and non-profit -- are eligible to participate in PIW. Participant employees are paid out of a fund created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in exchange for employers’ in-kind contribution of supervision and training.

PIW was launched by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) on April 1, 2010. Already, nearly 350 employers across the state have signed up to participate, creating more than 2,825 jobs. Recently, the New York Times published an article highlighting the positive experiences of two participating employers, Michael’s Fresh Market and DeNormandie Towel and Linen Supply Company.  

For more information and to become a PIW employer, go to www.PutIllinoistoWork.Illinois.gov.

This post was coauthored by Jessica Sklarsky.

When an Employer and a Federal Prosecutor Praise Giving a Second Chance

WorkerAmong numerous stories I’ve come across about people with criminal records turning their lives around, a recent story from the Quad-City Business Journal caught my attention. The story involves a trio who served time in federal prison for trafficking meth, the employer who hired them, and the federal prosecutor who described their employment relationship as “just terrific.”

Sally Hillman, Frannie Spickers, and Brian Nimrick were all convicted of trafficking methamphetamine. Upon completing their prison sentences, they searched for employment. Usually, a job search for people with past convictions can yield very few results, especially in the current job market. Even when employers are willing to take a chance on someone with a criminal record, those employers often do not expose themselves publicly out of fear of becoming stigmatized.

In this story, though, not only did Hillman, Spickers, and Nimrick find work with Greystone Logistics, but this Bettendorf, Iowa-based manufacturing company openly acknowledged its policy of giving second chances to people with criminal backgrounds. A plant manager explains:

It really comes from the heart. Sure we get great workers with good attendance and good attitudes. But when you hear their success stories — such as getting to see family they had not seen in years — and they are genuinely grateful to have a job and a place to plant their feet to start again, to get that second chance, you know you are doing the right thing.

It makes you want to go the extra mile when you are made aware of the discrimination they have to endure to get a job, to rent an apartment, etc. We truly do want to give these great people a re-chance to adapt and to become a productive member of society. Without employment it cannot be done. When you have that "Grampa" who gets to see his  9-year-old grandchild for the first time, and he is doing everything right so he can see his grandkids, how can you not do this for them?

This chance for Hillman, Spickers, and Nimrick was a chance not only to work, but also to succeed. The story notes, for instance, that Spickers has been working to move up the company ladder since joining Greystone Logistics as a janitor nearly two years ago.

Another other notable person pleased with the trio’s success is Jeffrey Lang, the federal prosecutor in the meth trafficking case that originally landed them behind bars. Now the acting United States Attorney of the Central District of Illinois, Lang praised their story as an example of how the criminal justice system is supposed to work:

The system protected the public back then. They are rehabilitated and now they are productive members of society.

Lang’s words echo a speech by Mr. Lang’s counterpart in the Northern District of Illinois, Patrick Fitzgerald, who reminded us that like law enforcement, businesses have an important role in ushering people from prison and jail back into society. Greystone Logistics has stepped up to that challenge quite well.


Maria Shriver Report on Women: Update Policies to Reflect the American Workforce

Compared to their parents and grandparents, today’s families are experiencing a transformation in how they navigate work and caregiving responsibilities. This change has profound implications for what the government and business must do to respond to the needs of workers, particularly female workers, and their families.

The recently issued Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything, a study by Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress,* contributes to the ongoing national discussion about the current state of women in the United States. Among the findings is that although women have made strides in the workforce, more can and should be done to increase these achievements.

According to the report, although many women have always worked, women now, for the first time, make up half (49.9 percent as of July 2009) of all workers on U.S. payrolls. This is a dramatic change from just over a generation ago: in 1969, women made up only a third of the workforce (35.3 percent). Women are also increasingly taking on the dual roles of breadwinner and caregiver: nearly four in ten (39.3 percent) mothers are primary breadwinners, bringing home the majority of the family’s earnings, and an additional quarter (24 percent) of mothers are co-breadwinners, brining home at least 25 percent of the family’s earnings. The recession is accelerating these trends by leading to massive job losses, especially within male-dominated industries, with men accounting for three out of every four jobs lost (73.6 percent).

The report recognizes that while the composition of the national labor force has shifted and the typical family structure has changed, government and business institutions have failed to catch up with these realities. As a nation where both men and women generally work outside the home, our country’s workplace policies and social safety net must be updated to reflect the current realities of today’s workers. The report calls on policymakers to reform government incentives and requirements for employers to ensure equality for women workers and to support employees’ dual work and care responsibilities by addressing these issues:

  • Equal Pay: Although women make up half of the labor force, they have not achieved equality in pay. The typical full-time, full-year female worker brings home 77 cents for every dollar earned by her male colleagues. And, for specific groups of women—including women of color and disabled workers—the wage gap is even larger.
  • Equal Opportunity: Continued sex segregation in employment has prevented women from accessing higher paying jobs in nontraditional fields. Low-income women in particular need access to job training that will lead to career pathways with family-sustaining wages and benefits.
  • Anti-Discrimination: Anti-discrimination laws, including Title VII and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, must be reformed so that employers cannot disproportionately exclude women from workplace benefits.
  • Family and Sick Leave and Social Security: Our social insurance system needs to be modernized to include paid family and sick leave as well as social security retirement benefits that take into account time spent out of the workforce caring for children and other relatives.
  • Child and Elder Care: Workers need better support from the government with direct subsidies for child care, early education, and elder care to help them cope with their family and work responsibilities.
  • Flexible and Predictable Schedules: More flexible and predictable work schedules are needed to help employees balance work and family more efficiently.

The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law’s Women’s Law and Policy Project and Community Investment Unit continue to work on issues of employment, education and skill development, and financial opportunities with the goal of promoting women’s economic progress and achieving gender equity in the workplace.   Eliminating sex-based discrimination and establishing policies that recognize the everyday reality of workers’ caregiving responsibilities are necessary for ensuring the economic security of women and their families. Better training and educational opportunities, stricter enforcement of fair employment laws, and the creation of policy where fair employment protections do not exist are all imperative in empowering women to increase their earning power, develop economic self-sufficiency, and support their families’ well-being. 

For more information about the Shriver Center work contact Wendy Pollack, director of the Women’s Law and Policy Project at wendypollack@povertylaw.org, or Karen Harris, supervising attorney of the Community Investment Unit at karenharris@povertylaw.org.

*Please note that the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law is named in honor of Maria Shirver’s father, Sargent Shriver, but is not the author of the report.